The Ultimate Guide to Ghosting: Understanding What It Is, The Impact and How To Overcome It
Had a call repeatedly ignored? Waiting for a response to a text message? No response to a message you’ve sent even though you can see your recipient is active on social media? Yep, you’ve been ghosted. And more of us have been in that position than we would like to admit.
In recent years, the term "ghosting" has become increasingly popular, especially in the world of dating. But the behaviour can occur in any type of relationship, whether involved friends, family, neighbours, or even colleagues. In fact, ghosting or ‘quiet quitting’ has been a new phenomenon within the workplace, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is ghosting?
“But what is ghosting?” I hear you say. Simply put, ghosting is when you acknowledge contact from someone but intentionally do not respond. It is the act of slowly withdrawing yourself and ceasing all communication and contact with someone without any warning, explanation, or reason.
Ghosting is generally believed to be an inconsiderate and disrespectful behaviour because it can be hurtful, confusing, and damaging to a person’s self-esteem, leaving the person being ghosted feeling disrespected, rejected, and sometimes even abandoned.
The person doing the ghosting is essentially removing ownership and neglecting their responsibility to engage in the emotional labour of effective and empathetic communication. Psychologists say this could be considered a trauma response.
Why would someone ‘ghost’ someone else?
Ghosting usually plays out for various reasons, such as feeling overwhelmed, not feeling ready for a commitment, or simply losing interest in the person or relationship, to name a few.
In some cases, people ghost because they are afraid of having a difficult or awkward conversation about the relationship, despite the benefits the conversation may have. It may, in some instances, be seen as an easy way out, presenting as the most viable option for them at the time.
Sometimes it happens because the person ghosting simply does not know how to properly express their dislike for something and choose to end a relationship, instead opting for a solution that avoids any type of potential confrontation.
Ghosting’s impact on mental health
Being ghosted can cause serious emotional injury and long-term mental health implications, including:
Low self-esteem: Being ghosted can lead to feelings of rejection and abandonment, causing a person to question their own self-worth, looks, skills and personality.
Depression: The sudden loss of a relationship can trigger feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair, which can lead to a range of symptoms associated with depression.
Anxiety: Being ghosted can increase feelings of anxiety as a person may ruminate and worry about what they may have done or said wrong, why the other person stopped communicating, and what they can improve or change about themselves to bring them back.
Trauma: For some people, the experience of being ghosted can be traumatic, leading to symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance behaviours, and intrusive thoughts. While it may not be a big traumatic experience, little trauma, such as grieving the loss of a relationship, can be equally as impactful too.
Confusion: Being ghosted can cause confusion and a sense of disorientation as a person may struggle to understand what happened and why the relationship ended.
Loneliness: The sudden loss of a relationship can increase feelings of loneliness as a person may feel isolated and disconnected from others.
The person doing the ghosting may also experience feeling stressed and/or anxious about the communication, they can potentially feel fatigued from emotional unsettlement, and have a growing fear about reaching out – particularly when they are conflicted about the relationship and if they want to continue it or not.
Stages to ghosting As common as ghosting is, sometimes it is very difficult to know when you are being ghosted. By understanding these 10 stages, you can begin to learn what it means for those who have experienced it as it can mirror the process of grief recovery:
The Honeymoon Stage: At the start of a new friendship or relationship, everything seems perfect. You are both excited and happy, and everything is going smoothly.
The Fading Stage: After a few weeks or months, you may start to notice less engagement, a general lack of interest, or plans being cancelled more frequently.
The Confusing Silence Stage: Eventually, they stop communicating altogether. They won't respond to your texts, calls, or messages, you may even see them on social media if they haven't blocked you, and you'll be left in a state of confusion.
The Denial Stage: At first, you may refuse to believe they have ghosted you. You may keep trying to contact them, hoping that they'll respond.
The Anger Stage: As the silence continues, you may start to feel angry. You may even feel like they have no right to just disappear on you without giving any explanation.
The Bargaining Stage: As the anger subsides, you may start to bargain with yourself. You may think, "Maybe they're just busy," or "Maybe they're going through something."
The Depression Stage: Eventually, the reality of the situation will set in, and you may start to feel depressed. You may feel like you're not good enough, or like you did something wrong.
The Acceptance Stage: With time, you'll start to accept that they ghosted you. You will begin to accept what has happened, even if you don’t fully understand it or why it occurred. You'll realise that there's nothing you can do to change the situation, and that it's time to move on.
The Healing Stage: During this stage, you'll start to focus on yourself and your own needs. You'll work on healing from the experience, reflecting on both sides and hopefully gain new insight about yourself and you'll start to feel better.
The Moving On Stage: Finally, you'll reach a place where you're ready to move on. You'll be open to new experiences, and you'll feel confident in yourself and your own worth – hopefully armed with this new knowledge about yourself and your tolerances.
How to reinstate communication if you are or have been the ghoster
To avoid ghosting, it is important to explore the root cause behind the behaviour so that it doesn’t become habitual. Learn how to engage in direct and respectful communication about your issues with authority and assertion by being open and honest about your feelings and intentions, especially if a relationship needs to end.
However, if you are wanting the relationship to continue but need some time out, consider building mechanisms that enable healthy relationship dynamics because ghosting can also impact the ghoster.
During times when contact can feel overwhelming, try to inform the person or people you have been ghosting that you will be taking time to re-regulate and when you feel more able to reach out, you will.
You don't have to tell them what is happening at that time if you don't want to because it can be hard to articulate, especially if you fully don't understand your situation yourself. When you have given that assurance, often you will receive an encouraging message that means you can breathe easier and take the time you need.
Be prepared for rejection too. Just because you have now communicated the issue, doesn't mean the other person or people are obliged to accept this explanation, forgive you or keep you in their life. They may not want to reinstate communication with you and their wishes have to be acknowledged, no matter how difficult it may be.
If you are fortunate, here are some tips on how to rebuild the relationship in a healthier way:
Give yourself some time to process your feelings towards the situation and the relationship
Reach out, ask for a chat and wait for them to respond to you. If they do respond, let them know your availability and stick to the date and time – both of you should communicate if there are any changes or delays in advance.
Keep contact open and light-hearted, avoid being judgemental and try not to make assumptions
Inform them if they have upset you and talk about how you've felt. Allow the other person to do the same
Agree on a safe and emotionally healthy way forward. This may be finding different ways to communicate/work/live together or making the decision to part ways from there, giving you a sense of closure
Set a boundary with yourself and with them by defining what are non-negotiable behaviours and expressing why this is important to you
If these agreements are continually breached, speak up, assert yourself and remind them of your boundaries because how you treat yourself is the blueprint for how others will treat you
Be patient with yourself and with them and try not to rush things while the trust is being rebuilt. Things may take time or may not go back to how they were, and it is important to acknowledge this new way of relating to them
Be present and let the past be. There is no healing in dwelling on past actions and not allowing yourself or the other person to move on without lording their past over them
Enjoy the new relationship, the past does not need to dictate the future. If you have both chosen to remain in the relationship, embrace the time you spend with each other, and try to not to be held captive in the past or project what may happen in the future
The wrap up:
There can be reasons for and against ghosting, but either way, the avoidance of conflict is unhealthy and if we are not conscious of how to engage in healthy resolution, we can be left with societies of people who embrace evasiveness, lack emotional intelligence, and are unable to process disputes. By learning how to deal with uncomfortable situations, we build resilience, learn more about our individual character and can become more solution-focused beings.
If you have been ghosted, it is important to remember that it is not a reflection of your worth or your value as a person. Instead, it's a reflection of the other person's behaviour and their own limitations. By focusing on yourself and your own needs, you can move past the experience and find happiness and peace.
About the author:
Rhyana is a qualified Emotional Freedom Technique Practitioner, Mental Health First Aider, award winning Mental Wealth Advocate and mentor. As a non-clinical mental health and emotional wellbeing practitioner, she provides proven tools, tips and strategies for self help tips, self care tools and self healing strategies and practices through her project ‘The P.L.A.N.N’.
Check out her work here: https://www.plannweg.org.uk/helpful-links